14 Independence Day – White House Explosion
The famous Independence Day White House explosion is first on the list. A blue beam shoots down from an alien spaceship and destroys the White House, a symbol of everything the United States of America stands for. Rather than opting for poor CGI, director Roland Emmerich opted for a 1:24 scale model of the building. Hoisted up on a wooden platform, it stood approximately 5 by 10 feet. This was done to accurately recreate the building down to the last detail so that the explosion would look believable. It is now one of the most iconic shots in all of film history.
13 Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – Burj Khalifa Building Climb
The Mission Impossible franchise is known for its wild stunts, most of which are done by Tom Cruise himself and most of which are done without the aid of CGI. The most impressive of these stunts is in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol when Tom Cruise really dangled from the world’s tallest building in Dubai, Burj Khalifa. This stunt required careful planning and even required the crew to gain permits in order to drill into the building and break windows to properly achieve what the director wanted. Despite the careful planning, the harness was so tight that it cut off Tom Cruise’s circulation and put a time constraint on their filming process.
12 Cliffhanger – Zip-Line From One Plane to Another
Directed by Renny Harlin, Cliffhanger has a hair-raising scene where stuntman Simon Crane zip lines from one airplane to the other in midair at an altitude of 15000 feet. He was offered 1 million dollars to carry out the aerial stunt. The film is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most expensive aerial stunt to be carried out. Luckily, Simon Crane smoothly carried it out, where he only performed it once.
11 Casino Royale – Crane Jump
Casino Royale broke the record for the number of cannon rolls in a car, flipping Bond’s Aston Martin a record seven times. It’s obvious that the team working on Casino Royale was not afraid to take some risks, but even the well-seasoned crew was nervous during the crane jump. Performed by professional free-runner and parkour founder Sébastian Foucan, even he admitted that he was nervous to perform the 100-foot jump without safety equipment, but his good faith brought us a phenomenal stunt. This stunt was so daring that many have considered it the best Bond stunt to date without any CGI.
10 The Dark Knight – Hospital Explosion
A masterpiece by, Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger’s final performance, The Dark Knight, is not only a cinematic wonder, it is full of wild stunts that were done without the use of CGI. The famous hospital explosion was a real hospital that was filled with explosives. Now it wasn’t just some random hospital that they bought out, it was already set to be demolished, and Nolan managed to convince the owners to let him demolish the building and film the explosion. This real destruction was far more dangerous than CGI, but Nolan has a preference for using physical sets rather than resorting to CGI.
9 Mad Max: Fury Road – Road Stunts
Mad Max: Fury Road is jam-packed with real road stunts with very little CGI. The most impressive is the flame-throwing guitar and the amp truck that the guitarist is strapped to, which both functioned at full capacity. Considering the great deal of risk a flame-throwing guitar could cause, it’s impressive that they managed to create such a unique piece that really functioned. The fact that this tech was able to be made, made the content of the film even more realistic as it proved that even if this outlandish idea was possible, then maybe more aspects of the film are possible as well.
8 Fast and Furious 6 – Tank Scene
The Fast and Furious franchise is known for the plethora of road stunts done, but the most impressive is the tank scene in Fast and Furious 6. The tank plows over cars along a Spanish highway, which the crew received special permission to basically destroy. That tank was a real functioning tank and created a huge path of destruction behind it, destroying 250 cars during production. This scene was originally intended to be CGI, but the film crew chose to use a real working tank along with a few lighter fakes so that the road wouldn’t be completely destroyed by the tank.
7 Skyfall – Opening Train Fight
The second of the Bond films to make the list is Skyfall, with the iconic train fight at the beginning of the film. The entire scene was shot atop a real moving train with advanced cameras to capture the action. Why risk the lives of the actors and stuntmen when CGI is available? Because when the stunts are real, the audience feels the danger and is more excited by the action and more invested in the outcome of the fight. The train fight scene was originally intended to be shot in India but was eventually switched to Turkey.
6 The Matrix – Bullet Time
The Matrix is full of wild stunts that bend and break the laws of physics, and the famous “bullet time” is probably the most iconic example when Neo is able to dodge bullets as if they are coming at him in slow-motion. It may surprise you to hear that the “bullet time” scenes were not made with CGI but good old-fashioned camera work using plenty of still shots to create the illusion of slow motion. CGI in 1999 was not that advanced, as a result, the Wachowskis felt that the only way to achieve the desired effect for “bullet time” was to use still shots. It is a perfect blend of using the limitations of early CGI to bring the iconic scene to life.
5 Tenet -The Plane Crash
Director Christopher Nolan finds himself on this list again as the plane crash in Tenet was very real. He initially wanted to use set-pieces, visual effects, and miniatures, however, upon finding a location with many old airplanes, he realized that buying an airplane would be more efficient, cost-effective, and realistic. Thus, in Tenet, they purchased a very old Boeing 747, and they set up an airport building where the airplane crashed.
4 Interstellar – Tesseract
Christopher Nolan is well known for avoiding CGI as much as he can, and Interstellar was no exception. The famous scene where Cooper has traveled through the black hole and is trapped in the tesseract, the center of the black hole, an enormous cube-like structure that allows Coopers to see all five dimensions as well as past, present, and future. This cinematically beautiful scene was shot using a physical set. It took hours of brainstorming, designing, and labor to create the mind-blowing set to look like a never-ending run of bookshelves to recreate the concept of a tesseract to the best of their ability.
3 Spider-Man – Lunch Tray
Directed by Sam Raimi, the Spider-Man lunch tray scene is one of the most memorable scenes where Tobey Maguire catches Marry Jane after she slips with one hand and then catches her lunch before it lands with a tray with his other hand. It took Tobey Maguire multiple takes to get the effect, but the finished result is iconic.
2 Inception – Rotating Hallway Fight
Another Nolan film on the list, Inception’s rotating hallway fight. The hallway was built vertically, with the actors suspended by wires to give the appearance of zero gravity. This complex shooting style was difficult for the actors who rehearsed the fight choreography for days in order to get the look and feel of it right. While the fight scene itself only lasted a couple of minutes, it took three weeks to film, but in the end, it was worth the hassle as the final result is legendary.
1 Live Free Or Die Hard – Helicopter Scene
Live Free or Die Hard isn’t the most well-regarded entry in the franchise, but the signature set piece where John McClane blows up a helicopter with a car is a memorable one. The stunt of driving the police car into the helicopter took three weeks to rehearse. The only CGI used after the scene was filmed was to delete the support cable from the scenes and add rotor blades to them.